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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Laser eye surgery complaints up
Eye close up
Laser eye surgery is increasingly popular
Negligence claims involving laser eye surgery against doctors belonging to the Medical Defence Union (MDU) have more than doubled in the last six years.

The MDU, which is the largest insurer for UK doctors, said that while some of the claims were over faulty surgery many more centred on patients' "unrealistic expectations" about what could be achieved.

The figures, released by the union on Monday, show that claims over laser eye surgery have increased by 166% in six years, and now account for a third of all ophthalmology claims.

The MDU has increased its subscription rates for laser eye surgeons and advised them how to minimise the risk of a claim.

About 100,000 people who are tired of wearing glasses or contact lenses undergo corrective laser eye surgery in the UK every year.

The procedure, which was introduced in the early 90s, can cost thousands of pounds.

Failure rate

In February, consumer experts warned that patients undergoing laser eye surgery were not being told about the risks they could be taking with their sight.

The investigation by Health Which? also revealed any doctor could carry out the treatment after just a few days of training - no specialist qualifications were needed.

The magazine also found complication rates varied between surgeons and clinics.

Rebecca Petris
It's very difficult to see in dim light or dark circumstances
Rebecca Petris
Laser eye surgery patient

Earlier this month, the medical journal Ophthalmology said the failure rate for eye surgery was one in 10, not the one in 1,000 figure widely advertised.

Rebecca Petris is one patient who found surgery did not fix her vision.

She told BBC News: "I can no longer drive. I've difficulty reading at most distances.

"I've severe double vision. My night vision is just about gone.

"It's very difficult to see in dim light or dark circumstances."

Dr Christine Tomkins, of the MDU, said: "Patients need to understand what the risks are.

"And they need to think about whether or not the benefits they think they will get from the procedure actually outweigh the risks, in order to decide whether they want to go ahead with it."

If the surgeon tells the patients they will have perfect vision afterwards and they will throw away their glasses, that raises unduly high expectations
David Gartry
Laser eye surgeon
In very rare cases, complications can lead to corneal ectasia, where fluid pressure builds up on the eye.

Patients can need a corneal transplant to correct the condition.

Other complications, though deemed "minor" by clinics, occur "relatively frequently", according to a recent review by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Patients can experience dry eyes or night vision problems, which can affect ability to drive or work in the evening or in dim light.

Eye surgeon David Gartry said the risks need to be put into perspective.

"You can see that something serious happening would be very rare indeed," he said.

"But if the surgeon tells the patients they will have perfect vision afterwards and they will throw away their glasses, that raises unduly high expectations."

The MDU is advising surgeons that patients must have enough time to ask questions and absorb information before making a decision to go ahead with the procedure.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Patient's expectations about the risks are sometimes unrealistic"

Eye laser surgery
13 Nov 02  |  Health

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